When it comes to youth football, the most important concern for coaches and parents is making sure the kids are taught the proper techniques of the game and the equipment they’re using is safe. With the media attention on injuries in football, steps are being taken to ensure that the game is played the right way and the safe way.
Riddell, the official equipment partner of USA Football, has been a big part of this movement with their “Smarter Football” initiative. This year, the program expanded to “18 In 18” equipment grants to reflect the uniform number worn by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who now serves as Riddell’s Strategic Advisor and Brand Ambassador.
One of the schools that submitted a winning entry for an equipment bid was Rogersville Middle School in Rogersville, Tennessee. Head Coach Jeremy Bailey and his staff have been stressing aspects of Smarter Football and Heads Up Football. So with a need for better equipment, Bailey decided to throw the school’s hat into the ring.
But he didn’t tell anyone about it. Not his players. Not his coaches. Not his family.
“As far as the grant goes, no one knew besides myself…not even my wife,” said Bailey. “I didn’t want that process to go through their heads. When I put that thing in and talked to the (Riddell) rep about it, he played it off like nobody around here has ever gotten that. Our parents wanted another sense of security with our equipment, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I really didn’t think I had a shot in the world at it.”
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So imagine Bailey’s surprise when he found out that he was one of the 18 winners!
A Riddell rep came to see him and played the meeting off as wanting to get some feedback about six new helmets that Rogersville had previously purchased. Then came the surprise of a lifetime. The rep had a video message from Peyton Manning congratulating Rogersville on winning one of the grants.
“It was just humbling,” said Bailey. “It’s the power of God working for me and the students here that really needed it because otherwise there’s no way financially our players and students would ever have been able to afford that. When he directly addressed me as Coach Bailey I just kind of went numb. I was just shocked. I knew what was coming after that. I cried. I just knew what it meant for the kids when I was able to surprise those guys.”
Here is a link to a list of all 18 programs that won grants from Riddell as well as a video that Riddell put together about Rogersville Middle School and a surprise visit from Manning.
After the equipment arrived, it was time for Bailey to surprise the kids, but he really wasn’t sure just how much gear the Warriors were receiving from Riddell. So he told the kids that Rogersville was selected to appear in a video. When they got to the locker room, the new equipment for the Rogersville Middle School Warriors was waiting there for them.
“The kids had no idea,” said Bailey. “I played it off telling them we got these new helmets and we’re the first middle school in the Tennessee region and they [Riddell] just want to come video us to see how it’s working and do all that. They had no idea.”
But there would be another surprise. After Riddell reps had arrived for the unveiling, Bailey was walking, and a special guest was whisked in to walk right behind him. The surprise visitor was none other than Peyton Manning!
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“They secretly walked him in behind me and he put his arms around me and my knees buckled,” said Bailey. “I was blown away. I didn’t have a clue. I thought no way that Peyton was going to get into Rogersville without getting noticed. He’s not going to come here with no security. I thought it was too much of a fetch for him to come here to a small school like this.”
After Bailey surprised the players with the new equipment, it was time for the kids to meet a two-time Super Bowl Champion.
“We do have one more surprise for you,” said Bailey in the video. “The greatest quarterback of all-time…who is he?”
And in walked Manning to a thunderous reception from the kids.
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“He was very cordial,” said Bailey. “He does so much for kids and you can tell he was humbled by the experience as well.”
The grant has meant the world to Rogersville Middle School and the entire community. The kids were so excited to receive the new equipment and it’s inspired them on and off the field. They love to show off the equipment and take it home.
The grant has also inspired about 15-20 students who currently do not play football to ask when tryouts for next year’s team take place.
“It not only affected the players, but it affected our school in general as a whole,” said Bailey. “I’ve got kids from other schools looking to transfer here now. It’s been a community movement.”
At the end of the day, it just goes to show that it pays off to practice “Smarter Football” and Heads Up Football. Congratulations to Rogersville Middle School and the other 17 winners. There’s no doubt that schools and other football programs around the country are getting their applications ready for next year’s grants!
Peter is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network, FOX News Headlines 24/7 and WCBS 880 Radio in New York. His son Bradley is playing middle school football and flag football on Long Island while his younger son Jared plays flag football. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.